There was a choir in the audience as well as small choir onstage as Stirling’s Gaelic speakers, their island origins noted in a special greeting, turned out to hear Cruinn’s first performance at the town’s Tolbooth.
Choruses were swelled without too much encouragement but the main focus undoubtedly fell on the Highland quartet whose singing weaves their four personalities together into a wonderful group sound comprised of still very noticeably distinctive individual tones. The winsomely high keening of Fiona Mackenzie both contrasts with and complements Rachel Walker’s calm, handsome timbre and likewise James Graham’s beautifully smooth, pure intonation alongside Dubliner Brian Ó hEadhra’s richly characterful baritone.
This is the sound that represented the Gàidhealtachd at this year’s BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards and the song that took them there, the gorgeous, impassioned Manus Mo Rùin with Mackenzie’s singing evoking a bagpipe melody against Ó hEadhra’s shruti box drone, was just one of the songs that showcased Cruinn’s strong emotional core. Walker’s singing of Griogal Cridhe, lamenting the executed Red Gregor of Glenstrae, got right into the soul of a grieving, wronged widow and Brian Ó hEadhra’s translation of a Hungarian love song into Gaelic, sung to his guitar accompaniment, was another deeply moving item.
It’s by no means all sad and bitter tears, however, and work songs and rowing songs, together with the tale of the young woman married – but not for much longer - to a much older man ensured that the darkness was balanced with lighter, celebratory and mischievous moods, all of them arranged, some a cappella, others to apposite piano and guitar playing, to highlight a truly superb vocal team.
A four-person (two men, two women) vocal group from Scotland, Cruinn specializes in Gaelic song, both traditional and tradition-inspired. Though it doesn't really sound a whole lot like them, you could think of Cruinn as a Scottish counterpart to the late, much celebrated, and very English Watersons.
Lèirmheas / Review: Stòras le Cruinn
Lèirmheas ciùil le Marcas Mac an Tuairneir / Marcas Turner reviews the latest music.
Cothrom Magazine. Feb 2015
I listened to Stòras, the new recording from Cruinn, with a certain excitement, during a weekend spent travelling by air between Inverness and Belfast, looking out across the landscapes of the two countries as the imagery of the songs came alive in my mind. This is the second recording from the pan-Gaelic ensemble, and from the outset I was looking for something that would compare to the lovely, melodious number Gun Dòchas on the previous album; it’s the Gaelic-language number I have most enjoyed over the last few years. Indeed, there’s a lot to please the listener in this collection, and the first thing that occurred to me was the excellent mix of traditional and newly-written material, that shows without doubt, that these four song-crafters are more than capable of extolling and extending the virtues of the Gaelic song tradition at the same time.
Where the production of the first album was noticeably sparse, clean and almost cool at times, the singers, this time, benefit greatly from a more expansive backing. The music itself is at once diverse and profound, which suits the strengths of the four unique voices individually, especially the drones employed behind the singing of James and Fiona, which have an almost other-worldly quality, in this context.
Indeed, in terms of vocal harmony in Gaelic, there is no beating Cruinn; and somehow audiences can only get a mere taste of this vocal power on any recording, but it’s clear in ‘Griogal Cridhe’ on this album. Be sure to catch the group on-stage, as I did at their album launch, co-inciding with last year’s National Mod. In this environment, you get a real sense of how the different musical backgrounds come together, as the ensemble does as individual soloists, to such great effect.
There is a soft, classical beauty to Rachel’s voice, trained at RSAMD, as it was, and a startling emotionality to the lively seann-nòs in the voices of James and Fiona. In the songs Thig Mi Gad Iarraidh and Mànus Mo Rùin you could believe the singing comes from the mouth of history itself. Crowning this, it was the voice of Brian that had the most effect on me this time; ever recognised as a fine Irish tenor. Age has been a blessing to Brian and his voice has developed somewhat from his first recordings with Anam, in the interim. Like an Islay dram, blooming in the bottle, there is a touch of peat in this voice these days, that flows powerfully on its own at at the bottom of the harmony with Rachel in Mairidh ar Gaol.
On the other hand, if I were to combine a a suggestion with my praise of this new album, it would be to close the breach between the excellent music and the lyrics of some of the songs; a void that was somewhat evident in Mairidh ar Gaol and Òran an t-Slaighteir, which, at times, seemed more prosaic than bardic and didn’t compliment the evident musical proficiency completely, despite the dexterity of the performance.
This, for me, would be the only weakness, however, and with this second collection it is more than obvious that a great legacy is being prepared, to be surrendered at the feet of forthcoming artists in years to come. If they continue in this vein, it is certain that these new songs of theirs, such as An Smeòrach, will flow from the mouths of up-and-coming young singers within a year or two; singers who, like myself, will be struck by the talent and will to add to the storehouse of tradition.
’S ann le tlachd a dh’èist mi ri Stòras, an clàr ùr aig Cruinn, fad an deireadh-sheachdain seo, a’ sgèith eadar Inbhir Nis is Beul Feirste, a’ coimhead thairis dealbh-tìre an dà dhùthaich agus ìomhaighean nan òran a’ tighinn beò san inntinn.
’S e seo an dàrna chlàr aig a’ chòmhlan panGàidhealach, is bhon chiad dol a-mach bha mi a’ sireadh deagh choimeas a dhèanamh leis an òran bhinn, àlainn Gun Dòchas air an albam eile aca, agus sin an t-òran Gàidhlig as motha a chòrd rium o chionn bhliadhnaichean. Gu dearbh, tha gu leòr a chòrdadh ris an luchd- èisteachd anns a’ chruinneachadh seo, agus ’s e a’ chiad rud a bhuail orm, an deagh mheasgachadh de dh’òrain traidiseanta agus ùr-sgrìobhte a sheallas, gun teagamh, gu bheil an ceathrar òranaiche an seo comasach air an traidisean Gàidhealach a mholadh is a leasachadh aig an aon àm.
Mar a bha riochdachadh a’ chiad chlàir gann is cha mhòr fionnar uaireannan, gheibh na seinneadairean buannachd còmhlan nas motha a’ cur taic riutha an turas-sa. Tha an ceòl fhèin làn diofair is doimhneachd, rud a thig aig neartan nan ceithir guthan aca ann an diofar dhòighean, gu dearbh na dosan a chuireadh air cùl guthan Sheumais is Fiona, aig a bheil càileachd cha mhòr os-nàdarra, sa cho-theacs seo.
Gu dearbh, a thaobh co-sheirm sa Ghàidhlig, chan fhaighear am beatadh air Cruinn; ann an dòigh, chan fhaighear ach blasad den chumhachd sin air clàr sam bith, ach tha e follaiseach san òran ‘Griogal Cridhe’ sa chruinneachadh seo. Bithibh cinnteach cuirm a’ chomhlain fhaicinn air an àrd-ùrlar, mar a rinn mise nuair a chuireadh an clàr air bhog aig Mòd Nàiseanta 2014. Anns an tsuidheachadh seo, gheibhear fianais buannachd nan diofar dhualchasan aig gach neach a’ tighinn còmhla.
Tha bòidhchead mhilis, chlasaigeach sa ghuth aig Raonaid, foghlamaichte aig an RSAMD, mar a bha, is clisgeadh làn fhaireachdainn san tseann-nòs spreigeach sna guthan aig Seumas is Fiona. Sna h-òrain Thig Mi Gad Iarraidh is Mànus Mo Rùin, tha an coltas seinn dìreach bho uaigh na h-eachdraidh fhèin. A thuilleadh air sin, ’s e guth Bhrian a bhuail orm as motha, ’s e a-riamh aithnichte mar shàr-thenor fìnealta Èireannach. Tha an aois na buannachd do Bhrian is a ghuth air atharrachadh beagan bho na ciad chlàran aig Anam, sna bliadhnaichean a dh’fhalbh. Mar uisge-beatha Ìleach, a’ leasachadh sa bhotal, tha blasad mòine is ceò sa ghuth seo sna làithean-sa, a shruthas gu spracail leis fhèin, is aig bonn a’ cho-sheirm le Raonaid ann am Mairidh ar Gaol.
Air an làimh eile, nam bithinn ri comhairle a bharrachd a chur rim mholadh air a’ chlàr ùr seo, ’s e a’ bheàrn eadar an sàr-cheòl is bàrdachd nan òran ùra a dhùnadh; beàrn a tha gu math follaiseach ann am Mairidh ar Gaol is Òran an t-Slaighteir, a tha, uaireannan, nas coltaiche ri rosg maol is nach tig aig a’ cheòl ealanta air a’ chlàr, a dh’aindeoin tionngalachd an taisbeanaidh.
’S e sin an aon laigse a-mhàin, ge-tà, is leis an dàrna chruinneachadh seo tha e fìor shoilleir gu bheil deagh dhìleab ciùil gu bhith ron chòmhlan fad nam bliadhnaichean ri thighinn. Ma leanas iad orra san dòigh seo, ’s ann le cinnt gun cluinnear na h-òrain ùra aca, mar An Smeòrach bho bhilean sheinneadairean òga ùra an ceann bliadhna no dhà; seinneadairean a bhios mar mi fhìn, glacte leis an tàlant shònraichte seo a tha air cur ri stòras an traidisein.
Cruinn Nominated for BBC Radio 2 Folk Award 2015.
Acclaimed Highland based Gaelic singing quartet Cruinn have received a nomination of Best Traditional Track in the prestigious BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards 2015. The track, Manus Mo Rùin, is from the band's latest album Stòras which was released on their own label at the Royal National Mòd in Inverness in October 2014.
Cruinn consists of four accomplished Gaelic singers who have all built up their own careers as solo singers and as members of other well known music acts. The band are James Graham from Lochinver, Fiona Mackenzie from Lewis, Brian Ó hEadhra from Dublin, and Rachel Walker from Kinlochewe. All are resident in the Scottish Highlands and are involved in numerous cultural, artistic and educational projects.
The words of the song Manus Mo Rùin were sourced from the extensive collection of folklore collected by Alexander Carmichael, Carmina Gadelica, primarily from the Gaelic speaking regions of Scotland between 1860 and 1909. The music was composed by Cruinn band members and couple Fiona Mackenzie and Brian Ó hEadhra.
The track, lead by Fiona, is haunting and atmospheric as the singers pray to Magnus the great Orkney saint who was slain in 1115 AD. Fiona states: “It is a powerful text and we hope that the music and singing we have built up around it makes the prayer even more potent. We are honoured that this track has been recognised by the folk music industry.”
Cruinn will attend the Folk Awards on the 22nd April which will be held in the Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff. The event will go out live on BBC Radio 2 and will also be available on the BBC iPlayer and Red Button Channel.
The album Stòras (cruinncd002) is available from all good record shops, from various online and digital retailers and also from the band's website www.cruinn.net. This album is supported by Creative Scotland under the Quality Production Programme.
“Strong clear melodies and beautifully full and mellow harmonies characterise Cruinn. They surpass expectations and provide a superb example of Gaelic song in the modern age.”
Living Tradition Magazine - Review of album Stòras
Private Label CRUINNCD002
Strong clear melodies and beautifully full and mellow harmonies characterise this stunning album from Cruinn. As a follow-up to their acclaimed first CD, Storas surpasses expectations and provides a superb example of Gaelic song in the modern age. The group members, four eminent performers in their own right, combine flawlessly over 12 songs, in varying moods which are alternately stirring, soothing, entrancing or poignant.
With the emphasis very much on vocal quality, Rachel Walker, James Graham, Fiona Mackenzie and Brian O hEadhra all take turns in the lead role – as well as sharing the production credits. They sing of emigration, lamentation, love, defeat and sainthood. There are two waulking songs, marked by powerful rhythms, and a Norwegian contribution about Scots soldiers massacred in 1612. Musical accompaniment is subtle but supportive. A full set of lyrics (with English translations) is included in an attractive booklet.
The Gaelic language takes on extra beauty in song. However, an inability to speak it in no way detracts from the enjoyment of this album. On the contrary, what comes through is the eloquence and majesty of a culture and the atmosphere of the land, sea and sky from which such a wonderful musical experience stems.
Cruinn manage the difficult balance of staying true to their roots and retaining the spirit of the Gaelic culture, while also making their music accessible to a wider audience. Their work is a pleasure to listen to - emotive, heartfelt, but highly professional. A CD to be replayed frequently.
Press Release – Fios Naidheachd
12 October 2014
Acclaimed Gaelic Band Cruinn Release Second Album
Acclaimed Highland based Gaelic singing quartet Cruinn release their second album at the Royal National Mòd on Friday 17 October at Eden Court, Inverness. The band consists of four well known Gaelic singers who have all built up their own careers as solo singers and as members of other well known music acts. The band are James Graham from Lochinver, Fiona Mackenzie from Isle of Lewis, Brian Ó hEadhra from Dublin, and Rachel Walker from Kinlochewe.
The new album is entitled 'Stòras' which means treasure or riches. It was recorded over two weeks in August at Castlesound Studios by Stuart Hamilton and was produced by the band. The album consists of 12 tracks of newly written and traditional Gaelic songs. The new material is diverse in nature including newly composed songs from Rachel - 'Òran an t-Slaightear' & 'An Smeòrach', two new songs by Brian - 'Mairidh ar Gaol' & 'Cèilidh na Bliadhna', a translation of a Norwegian song by Fiona - 'Led Er Din Sang', and a translation of an Irish song - Air m' Anam Chan Innsinn Cò i'. Songs on the album which Gaelic music enthusiasts might recognise are - 'Gu ma Slàn do na Fearaibh' and 'Griogal Cridhe'.
Band member Brian Ó hEadhra states, “We are very proud of this new work. It is important to us that new songs enter into the Gaelic song repertoire. We have enjoyed working out interesting harmonies and arrangements to these songs and feel that this album builds on the sound of our first album which was nominated for Album of the Year at last years MG ALBA Trad Awards.”
Cruinn will be back at the Trad Awards in Inverness in December, this time performing work from their new album. Before that, however, they will be launching Stòras at Eden Court, Inverness at 12:30pm on Friday 17th October. This launch event is free and open to the public. That evening they play Eden Court's One Touch Theatre in a double bill with the Glenfinnan Cèilidh Band. Tickets available from the An Comunn Gàidhealach desk at Eden Court.
Stòras (cruinncd002) is released on Cruinn's own label and will be available in the shops and for digital download from 17 October 2014. Some advance copies of the new album will be available to buy at Eden Court from Wednesday 15 October. This album is supported by Creative Scotland under the Quality Production Programme.
For more information, images or review copies, please contact:
We are delighted to announce that Cruinn will be bringing out a new album at the Royal National Mòd in Inverness on Friday 17 October 2014. The band will perform at a concert at Eden Court as part of the Mòd Fringe programme.
The new album is entitled ¨Stòras¨ and has newly composed songs as well as traditional songs and translations of songs from Ireland and Norway. Like previous Cruinn recordings, the album has strong harmonies, arrangements and high production values.
Cruinn recorded the songs at Castlesound studios, Pencaitland, in August and it was recorded, mixed and mastered by Stuart Hamilton. Guest musicians were Patsy Reid on strings, Matheu Watson on guitar and whistle, and Ross Wilson on bass.
Advance copies of the album will soon be available for purchase from our website store. www.cruinn.net
Thanks to Creative Scotland for supporting this project.
By Neil Hedgeland
Living Tradition Magazine
“...the major strength of this talented quartet is without doubt the interplay of their four distinctive voices...”
Early in December, the Best Album of the Year prize at the Scots Trad Awards for 2013 went to Room Enough For All, the Battlefield Band’s latest in a long history of over 20 albums featuring numerous line-ups. Notable among the three other nominations was the debut album from Cruinn, a quartet of prominent Gaelic singers with many individual recordings to their names, whose subtly sublime harmonies have rapidly gained them attention following the release of their self-titled album and glowing reviews for their consequent performances.
Cruinn in Gaelic means ‘round’, ‘circular’, or alternatively,
‘gathered, assembled, collected’, according to Gaelic scholar
Edward Dwelly. Cruinn, the group, consists of James Graham, Fiona Mackenzie, Brian O hEadhra and Rachel Walker. Having been impressed by their vocal dexterity and versatility in presentation of both traditional and original compositions at concerts in Greyfriars Church in Edinburgh in the late spring and later in performances during the Blas Festival in September, I arranged to meet them when they played a rare concert at Leith Folk Club in November. At that time they had just been informed of their Trad Awards nominations - as well as the album, Rachel was nominated as Best Gaelic Singer, an award she went on to win.
Brian explained how the group came into being. He had thoughts about forming a Gaelic vocal outfit, contacted Rachel, who suggested James, and then Brian approached his wife, Fiona, with the idea - thus the foursome was formed. Fitting rehearsals and performances into four individual schedules will always be a bit tricky, but since the album came out early in 2013, they have been able to promote the album extensively between their other activities.
Brian, originally from Ireland, but now based in Inverness, came to prominence with the band Anam, which was formed in 1994 and after several line-ups, during which Fiona joined, finally came to a halt in 2005. Originally writing in Irish, he now writes in both Scottish Gaelic and English and as well as recording solo, has recorded and performed with the likes of Christine Primrose, Sandy Brechin and Bruce MacGregor.
Fiona comes from the Isle of Lewis and has performed and
recorded with her sisters, Eilidh and Gillian, as Mackenzie - they recently performed at the Michael Marra tribute concert at Celtic Connections. She also performed and recorded alongside the Wrigley Sisters in the band Seelyhoo and, showcasing her own songwriting, put out a solo album on Linn Records to much acclaim in mainstream music circles.
Rachel was brought up in Kinlochewe in Wester Ross, where
she was introduced to Gaelic song as a young child, although it was pointed out to me when I met the group that they had all started singing in Gaelic before learning the language. Rachel graduated from the Royal Scottish Academy of Music, where she studied under Kenna Campbell. She has released three albums, the first of which was produced by Runrig’s Malcolm Jones and the latest featuring her own songwriting. She supported Runrig on their 2008 tour, occasionally plays with her husband’s band, Skippinish, and produced James’ Greisean Greine album.
James Graham’s voice has been prominent in Gaelic music circles since he won the gold medal at the National Mod in 2007. Coming from Lochinver in Sutherland, he had previously made his presence known by winning the BBC Young Traditional Musician of the Year award in 2004. As well as singing unaccompanied, he sometimes performs with pianist James Ross and, like Manran’s Norrie MacIver, is a member of Mary Ann Kennedy’s Na Seoid. He has released two solo albums and, like Rachel, can often be seen on BBC Alba, recently in a series narrated by Julie Fowlis on landscape and music, Innsean An Iar-Hebrides. He could also be seen in this year’s BBC Alba Hogmanay ceilidh, first-footing and singing! He graduated from the Royal Scottish Academy of Music, where as well as singing, he studied piping.
The major strength of this talented quartet is without doubt the interplay of their four distinctive voices, but their vocals are complemented sympathetically by guitar from Brian (also the shruti box), whistles from James and piano and keyboards from Rachel. The album was produced by Jim Sutherland, who added some of his own percussion, the other musicians being Euan Burton and Matheu Watson. The album’s content is a finely honed melee of original compositions in Gaelic from Rachel and Fiona, songs written and sung by Brian both in Irish and Scottish Gaelic and traditional Gaelic songs interpreted with lead vocals by James, Rachel or Fiona.
The album leads off with Fiona’s A Phiuthrag’s A Phiuthair, learned from Christine Primrose. Rachel is featured on a Tiree rowing song, Fhalbh Oirre Ho and James on a love song, Mala Chaol Is Beul Tana, as well as a song from Cape Breton, Caite A Bheil I Ann Am Muile. Fiona’s Phos Iain Ailean was co-written with her sister Eilidh and Rachel’s Gun Dochas was inspired by lonely nights as a student. Faoiseamh is a song Brian wrote in Irish Gaelic in his youth and Ho Ro Mo Bhata was translated from Irish to Scottish Gaelic and sung by Brian. The album concludes with the ensemble Ceann Traigh Ghruinneart.
That leaves two intriguing adaptations - highlights both on the album and in concert performance - Eirich Isean Eirich, with lead vocals by Brian and Rachel and Oran Celia, performed by Fiona. The former is a Hungarian love song originally recorded by Marta Sebestyen with Muzsikas, which Brian translated into Scottish Gaelic from an English translation made by the musician Aaron Jones from the original Hungarian! Oran Celia is an adaption to Gaelic of a poem written by the English poet Ben Jonson in the 17th century, the words of which later became the song Drink To Me Only With Thine Eyes. These two arrangements exemplify the thought and attention to detail put into the production of an album full of aural delights.
As to the future of Cruinn and the complexities surrounding the arrangement of concerts or tours in line with each individual’s commitments, both musical and family, Rachel told me that it can be a problem sorting things out with children involved. Her husband, who performs with Skippinish, can help with their two children, but Brian and Fiona have children together who need to be looked after while they are travelling. Brian has often been involved in regional and community projects supporting the Gaelic language and culture, having been artistic director of the Blas festival and Scottish Gaelic Arts and Culture Officer for Bord na Gaidhlig and Creative Scotland. Rachel aside from her solo performances has also worked as a record producer and as musical director for the Skippinish Ceilidh House in Oban, as well as being involved with the recent Clo project, also in Oban.
At present plans are uncertain for performances during 2014, but Brian did tell me they were hoping to have a second album ready to launch at the National Mod later in the year. If this second album proves to be as pleasing to the ears as their debut, it will be well worth the wait.